Heard around the West

  • Cowboy meets bull on a Tucson mural

    Greg Woodall


Cheyenne Frontier Days can get rowdy, but rowdy doesn’t begin to describe what rodeo contestant Neal Daniel did in a bar last July: He got into a fight he still can’t remember and stabbed a rival seven times. But after a judge recently ordered Daniel to pay the victim $32,000 in restitution, Daniel, a Texas native, offered to give the victim $50,000, telling the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, "Your honor, I’ve dishonored my family, my friends and myself, and I would just like the opportunity to restore that honor." Daniel also backed out of several rodeo venues in which he might have competed against the man he knifed.


In another surprising story, the high school student council in the rural community of Farson, Wyo., wanted to raise money for the Make-a-Wish Foundation, a charity for terminally ill children. But the Friday night dance and pie auction was a dud, until a student suggested calling a nearby bar, where workers from the Jonah oil and gas field were spending their weekly paychecks. That did the trick, says resident Marcia Hensley. When the oilfield workers showed up, they began bidding with such gusto that the pies started fetching $175 apiece. When the night was over, the kids had raised $2,000.


It’s tough enough that chinook salmon have to climb fish ladders to overcome Bonneville Dam. What’s worse is that the young fish encounter sea lions that have learned to climb the fish ladders just to pick off an easy meal. Sea lions are formidable predators, and they have long lurked below dams to prey on migrating salmon. Their increasing hunting skills may be having an impact, although salmon face so many obstacles, it’s hard to be sure. But something is obviously killing the fish: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the 10-year average for returning chinook at Bonneville is 9,708 fish, but in mid-April this year, the total return was just 56 fish. The good news is that sea lions can be deterred from dams by recorded whale sounds.


Bill Reid is an outdoor educator who’s been "bitten, stung or sucked on" by everything from rattlesnakes and hornets to harvester ants and ticks. But no skunks have ever sprayed him, although he once looked up to see the raised rear end of one dancing in his direction. In Desert Voices, the newsletter of the Chihuahuan Desert Conservation Alliance, Reid admires the dainty animals, noting their insouciance in the wild and their utility: "A barn with skunks has no rats at all." Houses, however, are a different matter: Reid reminds us that now is the time for skunks to check out basements as potential denning sites. Baby skunks, born in early spring, grow to nearly adult size within about eight weeks.


The bad news is that it takes 10 to 12 years for sturgeon at a fish farm to grow to be 5 feet long. The good news is that once the fish reach that size, they’re ready to produce tasty caviar that fetches $45 an ounce. That’s why some southern Idaho farmers are betting on farming the huge white sturgeon, especially since the fish’s wild Asian relatives increasingly suffer from poaching, pollution and overfishing. Caspian Sea caviar is now so rare that it sells for $78 an ounce, reports Oregon Public Radio, opening the door for Western "cowboy" caviar.


A new book by Carol Steinfeld, called Liquid Gold: The Lore and Logic of Using Urine to Grow Plants, says we flush away a perfectly good nitrogen-builder for our gardens. Steinfeld insists that "real flower power" comes out of each of us, and all we need is some form of "urine diversion" to take advantage of what we do naturally. Whimsical drawings by Malcolm Wells, the guru of underground-house design, make peeing on plants seem perfectly sensible. Learn more on the Internet at Liquidgoldbook.com.


Three slime-mold beetles have been named in honor of this country’s president, vice president and secretary of Defense, thanks to two former Cornell University entomologists. The scientists were charged with naming 65 new species of beetles; now, three of the insects will achieve immortality as Agathidium bushi, Agathidium cheneyi and Agathidium rumsfeldi, reports The Associated Press.

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado. Tips of Western oddities are often shared in the column, Heard around the West.

High Country News Classifieds